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The Transfiguration, Part One

The Transfiguration, Part One

From Series: The Gospel According to Mark, Volume 4

Mark 9:1-8 (ID: 2746)

James, John, and Peter were eyewitnesses to Moses and Elijah’s appearance and Jesus’ transfiguration on God's holy mountain, and they were determined to accurately report what they saw. To those who weren't there, it seems like a strange story, but Alistair Begg helps us understand that this event was intended to give a temporary glimpse of Jesus’ heavenly glory. When Christ reveals himself to us, we are called to simply believe.


Sermon Transcript:

We’re going to read from the Bible, in the Gospel of Mark and chapter 9, and we’ll read the first 13 verses. If you’re feeling a little sleepy this morning, as some were in the first service, then now is a good time to sit on a pin or do something to get yourself alert, because it’s going to be demanding to consider the Bible, it’s going to involve us thinking, and it’s hard to think while you are drifting off into the second and third stages of anesthesia. So, let me encourage you in that way.

Mark 9:1:

“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.’

“After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

“Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’

“Suddenly, when they looked [’round], they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

“As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.

“And they asked him, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’

“Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.’”

Amen, and may God help us as we study the Bible together. Incidentally, you will find this passage—the parallel passage—in Matthew 17, and also in Luke chapter 9. And if, this morning, I appear to say something which is not in your text as you look down at it, then that is probably because the reference that I’m making is either to the Matthew passage or to the Luke passage. And you can check up on me, either now or later on. If, of course, something I say is in neither of the passages, or none of the passages, then we’ve all got greater problems than we realized.

So, let’s ask for God to help us:

Our God and our Father, we thank you that this is your book which you’ve given to us; we thank you that it introduces us to your Son, the Lord Jesus; we thank you that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds and to illumine the printed page so that beyond simply a human voice we might hear the very voice of God. And it is this that we ask might be our portion as we pray humbly in Jesus’ name. Amen.

There is no earthly way to adequately explain what the disciples witnessed in the transfiguration.

Well, as I say, this incident is recorded both in Matthew and in Luke, and I think, actually, John, in the prologue to his gospel, makes at least a tangential reference to it when, in the course of his statement concerning Jesus, he says of him in verse 14 of John 1, “We have seen his glory.” And one of the ways in which the glory of Jesus was seen was, of course, in this particular event that we’re considering now. Peter writes of it in his second letter, and he tells the people that “we did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[1]

That is a very important statement, actually, especially in relationship to this particular incident. Because the skeptical mind in reading the Bible would come to an event like this and say, “What an incredible fabrication this must be! Who in the world would ever invent something like this? If they were putting a religion together, an idea, why would they include stuff that is so difficult to understand?” And the skeptic would say, “It really sounds like an invention to me. It sounds more like a mythology to me than it does any kind of historical incident.” Well, it’s almost as if Peter is anticipating that, and he says, “We [didn’t] follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of [Jesus], but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”[2] And, of course, he’s referencing there the voice of the Father from heaven on the occasion of the baptism of Jesus. He then says, “[And] we ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”[3] Okay? So he is, in writing his letter, referencing that which the Gospel writers record for us and which we consider this morning.

Lennon and McCartney suggested that “there are places that we will remember all of our lives, though some have changed, some for good, but not for better; some have gone, and some remain.”[4] And to the extent that that is true, surely Peter and James and John would have regarded this mountainside—probably Mount Hermon—they would have regarded the location on that mountainside as just one of those places.

For Peter, the experience of the recent days has been a roller coaster ride. He is grappling with the things that he’s been enabled to say concerning Jesus, in contrast to the things that he’s discovering from Jesus. And one minute he’s up in the air, and the next minute he’s down on the ground. One minute he’s declaring, “You are the Christ, you are the Messiah,”[5] and the next minute Jesus is saying to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You don’t have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”[6] He’s risen to the heights of declaration, he has fallen to the depths of despondency as he realizes how badly he’s got it wrong.

Now, this is not the point of our study this morning, but it is good to note in passing that Peter is quite helpful to us in this respect—especially if you, like me, found that your Christian life is a series of highs and lows. If you have managed to find “stable air,” as our pilots talk about… it always happens—they say, “And we’ve now reached thirty-four thousand feet, and we’ve found some stable air, so I’m going to turn the seat belt sign off”—no sooner do they do that than they have to turn it back on again, because what they think they found, often they haven’t found at all. Clear-air turbulence.

Well, the Christian life, as some people suggest, is, once you get up to a certain altitude, then it’s just smooth sailing from that point. I’ve never been impressed with that. I couldn’t find it in the Bible, and it’s certainly not the experience of my own Christian life. No, I think I’d have to say that it is a series of highs and lows. One minute you feel as though you have ascended to the mountain, and the next minute you’re down in the depths. Octavius Winslow, in the nineteenth century, in England, wrote concerning this, “The Christian life is tortuous and chequered in its course. The royal path to glory is a divine mosaic paved with stones of diverse lines. Today, it is a depth almost soundless; tomorrow, a height almost scaleless.”[7] No sense of simply coasting along, as it were, in turbulent-free air.

Well, we find that Peter was right in the midst of all of this, and we find him again, this morning, moderating his existence somewhere between these highs and the lows.

We ended last time essentially at the first verse of chapter 9. I think in the first service I referenced it; I never got to it in services two and three, so we’ll just take a moment on it. This is the kind of verse that people in home Bible study groups spend an inordinate amount of time on, because they’re intrigued by it, and there’s usually somebody in the group who has the definitive answer to the question that is raised, “I say that some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power,” and somebody says, “Well, I can tell you exactly what Jesus is referencing when he talks about the kingdom of God coming in power,” and before you know it, the whole thing has gone south.

The fact of the matter is that nobody knows exactly what it is that Jesus was referencing. And so, the commentators have all kinds of ideas. I’ll mention a few of them, I’ll tell you my preference, and then we’ll move quickly on, the reason being that this is not a main thing, and therefore it’s not a plain thing. For the plain things, you will remember, are the main things, and anytime there’s confusion as to what it might be, you can be absolutely certain that it’s not main and it’s not plain. That’s how you know you can move on.

Some people think that Jesus is referencing the destruction of the temple in AD 70: “Here is a great display of the power of God, and some of you will still be alive when that happens.” Some think that he’s simply speaking of the spread of the kingdom as a result of the teaching and preaching of the early church—five thousand people by the time we get to Acts chapter 4, three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost. “This,” they say, “it must be.” Others think that he’s referencing Pentecost, which precedes that—a dramatic display of God’s power. Some think that he’s actually speaking concerning the resurrection, which, of course, is a dramatic display of God’s power. And some—and I include myself in this group—think that in terms of the proximity of what follows, he is probably making reference to the transfiguration itself: “Some of you who are standing here are not going to die before you see the kingdom of God coming with power.” And six days later, he took James and John up on the mountainside, and guess what happened? They saw the kingdom of God come with power.

The glory of God is veiled in Christ’s humanity. It is not obliterated, but it is veiled.

Now, would I argue for that? Not for a moment. It’s the best I can do with it, but R. T. France is very helpful when he observes, “There[’s] no need to be … specific” in answering this question]. “In any [and] all of these ways, and no doubt in others too, those with eyes to see could have perceived before they died that God had powerfully taken control of events and was working … his purpose [out] in history.”[8] In other words, there were all kinds of things and all kinds of ways in which this statement made by Jesus would find its fulfillment in the lives of men and women before they died.

That said, we continue from verse 2: “After six days, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him.” It’s an interesting little reference, “After six days.” I don’t think it comes anywhere else in Mark’s Gospel. What was happening during those six days we’re not told, but presumably Jesus was teaching on the subject matter that he had introduced and to which Peter had reacted so forcefully in a negative way. Remember, he had begun from this point—the watershed of the gospel—he’d begun from this point to teach them that the pathway of the Messiah was a pathway of suffering, and rejection, and death, and finally of resurrection. And remember, Peter had said, “Lord, I don’t think this is a good idea for you to go down this road,” and essentially, he began to try and teach Jesus the Old Testament.[9]

Well, the six days are over, and now it’s time for a theological field trip. It’s some time since I went on a field trip. We used to go on them from grammar school in Yorkshire, down to the caves, to Malham Cave, where we looked at sedimentary rock formations, outcrops of limestone and millstone grit, and we were supposed to look, we were supposed to listen, we were supposed to learn, and we were supposed to write it down in our books. Well, some of my friends were very good at that, and I was able to copy from their books, and so I remember vividly some of those field trips. I never was a great field tripper, I must confess. I’m still not very good at them. But I do know that if you go on one of those things, you are supposed to look—pay attention—listen to what you’re told, and learn from what you see.

And that is exactly what Mark expects his readers to do. He has this for us in order that we might look and listen and learn. And that’s the outline of our study. It’ll take us into this evening, so don’t be alarmed if it seems as though it’s not finishing. It will finish later on.

Look!

Well, first of all, look at the description that is provided for us in verses 2–4. We have here the description of a scene which in some senses is almost indescribable. That will become apparent. Look at what we’re told. What do we learn from this? Well, we learn that there were three individuals involved, plus Jesus. We’re told that they were up on this “high mountain” and “they were all alone,” that there was no one with them. Three, plus Jesus, all alone. We’re also told that Jesus had gone up onto this high mountain in order to pray.[10] (And you say, “Well, it’s not there.” Well, that’s one of the things I’m telling you about. You’ll find that in Luke chapter 9, but I’m not going to point it out to you every time. Follow up yourselves.) The purpose for going up was to pray, and as they were praying, “he was transfigured before them.”

Now, this might not be a phrase that you’ve ever come across. And this may be the first time that you’ve ever looked at this, and I hope that you will find it to be illuminating in more ways than one. “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them,” and “his face shone like the sun.”[11] He was transfigured. What was involved in the transfiguration? Well, it changed his appearance. His face was shining. Now, clearly this means more than just, you know, he had washed it that morning, or it was looking particularly rosy. This is something of a dramatic encounter. There was a translucence, or there was something to his face that could only be described in this way. And his clothes were washed and dazzling white, whiter than you could get from your favorite dry cleaners. That’s the point that he’s making. In other words, the whiteness is of heavenly origin.

Now, one of the things in descriptive passages like this—and in seeking to teach from descriptive passages like this—is that eventually language folds in on itself. Because there is no earthly way to adequately explain what the disciples witnessed, neither in the way it is given to us here, which is an accommodation to our abilities as finite creatures, nor in one’s capacity to actually take the descriptive passage and teach from it. We’re helped when we take an event like this and we think about it in relationship to the totality of the Bible and what we know of God. And some of us who know our Bibles will perhaps recall that one of the ways in which God is described in Psalm 104:2 is that “he wraps himself in light as with a garment.” “He wraps”—he clothes—“himself [with] light as [in] a garment.” And the psalmist writes those words, representative of God and the revelation of himself. And people now read Mark chapter 9, “He was transfigured, his face shone like the sun, and his garments were dazzling, whiter than anyone in the world could ever bleach them,” and the person says, “Oh, that sounds a lot like Psalm 104. God does that.” Well, that’s the point! This is God.

Now, the word that is translated “transfigured” is the Greek word metamorphoo, from which we get our English word metamorphosis. It is used here and in Matthew 17; it is used in Romans 12:2 when Paul talks about being “transformed by the renewing of your mind[s];” and it is also used in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where Paul speaks of the ongoing work of God within the life of the Christian, where he says, “[And we] are being transformed into his [image].” Those are the only occasions in the New Testament when this particular verb is used. And the application of that will come in part this evening.

Now, all I can encourage you to do is go home and read this description. Just go home and read it. Read it out loud. Read it in another translation. Read it, and ponder it, and see what you see. One of the great skills an artist has is a skill in looking. There’s a skill in looking. Some of us look, but we don’t see. And what is described for us here is there in order that we might look and discover that for a moment, in this description, there is a transition from, if you like, concealment to revelation. Something happens in this scene whereby there is a manifestation of God in Christ in a way that was not true in the moments preceding it nor in the moments following it.

Now, remember what the Bible tells us: it tells us that Jesus is “the radiance of [the Father’s] glory.”[12] He is “the radiance of [the Father’s] glory,” and yet he has entered our world—to quote the hymn writer Graham Kendrick—he has “entered our world, [his] glory veiled.”[13] So the glory of God is veiled in his humanity. It is not obliterated, but it is veiled. And so, what we have in this description is what Calvin refers to as “a temporary exhibition of his glory”[14]—“a temporary exhibition of his glory”—a little pulling back of the curtain, a little inkling, a little seed, a little moment, a little flash, as it were, up into the sky and on the mountainside and into the consciousness of these disciples, so much so that Peter would say, “This wasn’t an invention. We saw this glory. We heard this voice.” And he told it to Mark, and Mark wrote it down and describes it for us here.

Christ became what he was not—namely, man—without ever ceasing to be what he was—namely, God.

But if you think about it, even this exhibition is inevitably incomplete. Because it can only be given to us under symbols—symbols which are then adapted to our capacity with language, so that the whole of the Bible is actually an accommodation to us. You understand that? That God, if you like, accommodates us. Yesterday, in a memorial service, I was reading from Psalm 91. And I was reading the verses, and I was imagining people as I read them: “And he will protect you by his feathers and keep you under his wings.”[15] Well, what is that? God has wings and feathers? No. It is an accommodation. It is the use of language in order to connote something, to describe something, which we in our humanity can then process.

And that’s really what we have in this description—a shining face and dazzling clothes. God was making it possible for Peter, James, and John to get a taste of what they could not fully comprehend—to get a taste of what they fully couldn’t comprehend. It defies language.

We understand that, don’t we? Sit beneath an amazing sunset, and you find out how good your vocabulary is, how limited it is. How many words, how many adjectives, can we produce to describe the immensity of what is before us? And we find ourselves looking at our companion and saying, “This is better felt than telt,” as we say in Scotland. “I can feel it better than I can convey it.” But they come down from mountainside, and they give us that which is referential.

Now, let me just mark with you the theology that is in this, in case some of us go wrong, because some of us have friends who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and some have friends who are Mormons. And our Mormon friends and our Jehovah’s Witnesses friends are at great pains to make sure that we understand that we’re not saying anything about the divinity of Jesus here, that we’re not saying anything about the fact that Jesus is actually God—that he is more than a man, but he is less than God. That’s what they want us to know.

Well, in actual fact, the divinity of Jesus, as we’ve said, was concealed under the veil of his humanity. His divinity was concealed under the veil of his humanity, so that you read Isaiah 53: He had “no form [or] comeliness.” There was “no beauty” about him that we would be attracted to him. He was one from whom men hid their faces. He was “despised,” and we esteemed him not.[16] He walked down the street, and people didn’t say anything. He was lost in the crowd. The people would have said, “Which one is Jesus of Nazareth?” unless he was teaching or unless he was doing a miracle. He was one of the group. You would never expect that God was there in the midst of the crowd in the Jerusalem markets—that in the midst of all of that, there is divinity. Surely, he would have some dramatic way of identifying himself. Surely, he would be carried around. Surely, he would have people walk in front of him and come behind him. Surely, when he finally made his great declaration of himself in the streets of Jerusalem, he would have marshaled all the forces and all the help that could be given from the Roman authorities and from the Jewish intelligentsia. But no! He rides in on a donkey, on the colt of a donkey.

Meekness and majesty,
Manhood and Deity,
In perfect harmony,
The Man who is God.[17]

He became what he was not—namely, man—without ever ceasing to be what he was—namely, God. And here in this moment, in this temporary exhibition, these individuals are given a sneak preview of that which will then be manifested after the resurrection, and that which will finally come to its fulfillment when history as we know it is wrapped up and we live in a new heaven and in a new earth.

Now, not only does Jesus dazzle and shine, but suddenly the four become six. And in verse 4, two key characters from the Old Testament are talking with Jesus. This is just quite terrific stuff, isn’t it? I know I say this all the time, but I think it all the time, and that is, I can’t… you know, if I get the opportunity at some point in the eternal glory, I want to talk to James or Peter and say, “When you were up on the mountain there, what was that like when you turned around, and there was Moses and Elijah?” I mean, you think they just said, “Oh, there’s Moses. Isn’t that Elijah talking to Jesus?” No, they were absolutely freaked out. That’s what it says. They became completely unhinged on the basis of this. Elijah, the prophet, the one who spoke of the restoration of God, and Moses, the lawgiver, they’re talking with Jesus.

You see this wonderful way in which the Bible is one big book—that the Old Testament and the New Testament are not set in opposition to one another. The New is, in the Old, concealed; and the Old is, in the New, revealed. That the significance of Moses as the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet finally finds its fulfillment in Jesus, for he is the one who hasn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.[18] So, I always say to my Jewish friends, “You got the whole basis here. Let’s just finally put the pieces of the jigsaw together. You don’t have to give up anything. You just need to embrace the end of the story.” And in some senses, in the Mount of Transfiguration, you have this wonderful interface of both the Old and the New.

And Luke tells us that what they were talking about—because Mark doesn’t tell us what they were talking about, he just says they were talking—Luke says they were talking about the departure of Jesus.[19] That’s an interesting thing to be talking about! You’ve only just come, and you’re talking about leaving. What’s that about? No, the word that is used here is the word for exodus. They were talking about the exodus of Jesus.

The exodus? Some of you are old enough to remember the Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston, here we go! Those big mountains of water up on either side. First movie I ever saw. The Ten Commandments. The Exodus. Moses. The liberation of the people. Redemption as a result of the outstretched hand of God, as a result of the shedding of blood, as a result of that which became the Passover celebration. And when they got together in the mountainside, Jesus and Elijah and Moses began to talk about the departure of Jesus, “which he was [going] to bring to fulfillment [in] Jerusalem”[20]—“bring to fulfillment [in] Jerusalem.” He was going to fulfill his departure. It gets even more complex: “What do you mean, you were going to fulfill your departure, you were going to fulfill your exodus?”

When there is a display of the majesty of God, the reaction of people is not to write a book. The reaction of people is to fall on their faces.

Well, he wasn’t talking about the way in which he was going to leave the world. He was talking about the fact that by his death, by the shedding of his blood, there would be another exodus. And that would be the exodus whereby people, through faith in Jesus, being placed underneath the sign of his shed blood, as was true for Moses and the people in Egypt, that they also would be set free, and the exodus of Jesus, the departure of Jesus, in and through Jerusalem is a reference to that where, by his death and his resurrection and his ascension, he redeems a people for himself.

And then, after that little discussion is over, we’re told that Moses and Elijah withdraw, and they leave the stage to Jesus—as, of course, they should. Because “in many and various ways of old, God spoke by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us in his Son,”[21] so that all of the pictures, all of the promises, all of the prophecies of the Old Testament are finally finding their fulfillment in the Lord Jesus. And James and Peter and John are there for this amazing moment.

That’s the description. And as they were leaving—that is, as Elijah and Moses were leaving—Peter chimes in.

Listen!

So, we move from the looking part to the listening part. And there is a discussion which ensues, and we’ll just begin this; we won’t be able to finish it, but we can at least make a start at it.

Mark tells us that Peter “did[n’t] know what to say” because he and his two friends “were so frightened.” Actually, the fact that he didn’t know what to say hadn’t ever stopped him before, and it doesn’t stop him now. Luke actually tells us that Peter “did[n’t] know what he was saying.”[22] So, he didn’t know what to say, and frankly, he didn’t know what he said after he said it. But it didn’t stop him. He’s a great encouragement to those of us who open our mouths and engage our minds afterwards.

“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.’” Well, that’s nice! You might as well make a positive start, right? “It’s, uh… I think this has been a very nice, a really nice field trip, Jesus, and I… I… I think this is… I think it’s excellent. I think, uh… actually, I think you’re onto something with this kind of thing. I mean, that other stuff that we were talking about, you know, six or seven days ago, about the ‘going up to Jerusalem to suffer and die, rejected,’ all that stuff… this, now we’re onto… this is a… now we’re on to something good. This is a great… this is a great idea. I like this. I like the shining, I like the dazzling, I love it. This is much more in keeping with the kind of thing… this is the kind of thing that people will respond to. They will be much more…” I don’t know. Was he saying that? I don’t know. Was he saying, “I think this was a field trip, but let’s make it a retreat center. Let’s have a little place here, like Camp-of-the-Woods, or whatever it is, and ‘Camp-of-the-Mountains,’ and, you know, we could have cabins; there could be the Moses cabin, and the Elijah cabin, and we could have the Jesus cabin as well, which people would want, probably, more than the other two, but we’d have to find a way to make sure that everybody got a good chance,” and so on.

And the voice from heaven says, “Shut up, Peter! That’s enough! It’s time to listen to Jesus. This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him. Listen to him.” This is the insistent word of God for all time, all places, everywhere: “Listen! Read your Bible and listen to me! Listen! We can explain this stuff.” The glimpse of majesty, the foretaste of glory, has so completely unhinged these characters that God, if you like, you know, says to one of his angels, “Cue the cloud,” you know? “Let’s bring the cloud in right now, before he goes any further.” “[And] then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and [then the] voice came from the cloud [saying]: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’” Actually, Matthew tells us that it was while he—that is, Peter—“while he was still speaking, a … cloud enveloped them.”[23] In other words, he was in the midst of it all, and was just like, “Pfft, that’s enough. Thanks. Thank you. Thanks, Peter, that was great, but uh… we’ll get back to you on that, but hold that thought.” And the cloud enveloped them. And the voice, reminiscent of the voice at the baptism, speaks out from the cloud to confirm the identity of Jesus: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Now, I know that this is a mind-stretching little passage of the Bible. But isn’t this actually what we might expect when the Lord of history—the one by whom “all things were created, whether things in heaven or things in the earth, thrones, powers, rulers, authorities, things visible, things invisible”[24]—isn’t this kinda what we would expect if God then momentarily pulls back the veil and reveals his majesty?

The God who makes himself known in such a way that we find ourselves on our faces before him is the God who in his mercy says, ‘Get up. You don’t need to be afraid.’

In fact, if you go and read your Bible, you will discover that on occasion after occasion, when there is a display of the majesty of God, the reaction of people is not to write a book. The reaction of people is to fall on their faces: “And he stood and stilled the storm, and they said, ‘What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him?[25] We know that God controls the waves, but who’s this in the boat?’” “And suddenly there was with the shepherds a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace amongst men upon whom his favor rests.’ And the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”[26] And the angel had to say to them, “Don’t be afraid.”[27] And here we read this account, and the same response is terror, and the same response of Jesus is to say to his disciples, “Get up. You don’t need to be afraid.”

We’ll come back to this.

If you have seen Mrs. Brown, the movie, or if you have seen Young Victoria, or frankly, if you’ve seen any decent royalty movie from the UK, you will remember the way in which the person who’s going in to see Victoria has to learn how to approach and how to leave. The approach is fairly straightforward, because you go forward, but the exit is what really makes it, because you never turn your back to the sovereign. You exit as you came in: before majesty.

We can’t turn our backs on his majesty. We can’t horizontalize the transcendent nature of his glory. It is for him to say, “Get up. You don’t need to be afraid.” It’s not for me to say, “I can do this. I don’t need to be afraid.” No. I do need to be afraid—the terror that comes as a result of the manifestation of his utter otherworldliness, of his perfect holiness, of his transcendent deity. Part of my problem in studying this passage is that my God is too small. And there’s just a possibility that your God is a little too small as well. What good a God whom we can circumscribe? What good a God that we can keep as a talisman in our pocket? Such a God is not available to us in the Bible. But the God who makes himself known in such a way that we find ourselves on our faces before him is the God who in his mercy says, “Get up. You don’t need to be afraid. Get up.”

We’ll come back to this later on.

Father, we thank you that we can read the Bible and we can think about it later on. And we pray that that which is clear may be embedded in our thinking, that which is vague may become the source of our further investigation. Anything that is untrue or unhelpful, we ask that you just banish it from our thinking, and that you will fill our gaze with the reality of who Jesus is and the wonder of what Jesus has done so that we might come before him in humility, and that we might trust in him entirely, and that we might live for him resolutely. For we pray in his name. Amen.

 


[1] 2 Peter 1:16 (NIV 1984).

[2] 2 Peter 1:16–17 (NIV 1984).

[3] 2 Peter 1:18 (NIV 1984).

[4] John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “In My Life” (1965). Paraphrased.

[5] Mark 8:29 (paraphrased).

[6] Mark 8:33 (paraphrased).

[7] Octavius Winslow, Soul-Depths and Soul-Heights (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 1.

[8] R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans; Carlisle: Paternoster, 2002), 345.

[9] Mark 8:32 (paraphrased).

[10] See Luke 9:28.

[11] Matthew 17:2 (NIV 1984).

[12] Hebrews 1:3 (NIV 1984).

[13] Graham Kendrick, “The Servant King” (1983).

[14] John Calvin, Commentary on the Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 2, trans. William Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), 347.

[15] Psalm 91:4 (paraphrased).

[16] Isaiah 53:2–3 (KJV).

[17] Graham Kendrick, “Meekness and Majesty” (1986).

[18] Matthew 5:17 (paraphrased).

[19] See Luke 9:31.

[20] Luke 9:31 (NIV 1984).

[21] Hebrews 1:1–2 (paraphrased).

[22] Luke 9:33 (NIV 1984, emphasis added).

[23] Matthew 17:5 (NIV 1984).

[24] Colossians 1:16 (paraphrased).

[25] Mark 4:39, 41 (paraphrased); Matthew 8:26–27 (paraphrased).

[26] Luke 2:13–14, 9 (paraphrased).

[27] Luke 2:10 (paraphrased).

Thankfulness: A Mark of Grace
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